Returning Running Backs:
Cadillac Williams – RFA
Derrick Ward – 3 years left ($3.25 million; $3.75 million; $4 million)
Earnest Graham – will earn $6 million if he’s on the team the next two years
Clifton Smith – ERFA
Kareem Huggins – minimum
BJ Askew – under contract for 3 more years ($875,000; $1.5 million; $1.3 million)
Chris Pressley – minimum
The Bucs as a team were 23rd in the league with 101.7 yards rushing per game. Cadillac had a really nice turnaround from injuries in ’09 and was able to stay on the field all year, but as warm and fuzzy as that was, he finished 23rd in the league in rushing. When you consider his injury history, the fact that he hasn’t run for 800 yards since ’05, and his contract status, it would make sense to have an eye on a replacement. Is that replacement in house? Ward earned $6 million last year which would have him set to receive $3.25 million since he gets $9.25 million in the first two years of the contract. That’s far too much for a guy who had double digit carries in only 5 games this past season. Are they going to increase his role, or is he a candidate for trade or release? Then there’s Graham. He’s due $3 million himself next year, is 30 years old, carried the ball 14 times in ’09, and has rushed for 264 less yards in his entire career than Chris Johnson did in just this past season alone. Smith suffered two concussions and wasn’t involved in the offense last year. Huggins was a preseason darling but nothing more.
If Askew is recovered from injuries sustained in that car accident, fullback is fine; especially with the experience Pressley earned last year.
Our backfield is far from ideal, but given all the other priorities, can the Bucs afford to spend an early pick on a playmaker like CJ Spiller, Jahvid Best, or Dexter McCluster or a lead back like Jonathan Dwyer, Ryan Mathews, or Anthony Dixon? The odds say no, but we’ve learned to never underestimate this Buccaneer regime.
My draft rankings:
1) CJ Spiller, Clemson (5-11, 195)
explosive playmaker; tremendous speed; nice compact build; patient runner; dynamic return man; nice hands; not strong between the tackles; not much of a pass protector; what's his workload going to be? Is he Chris Johnson or Eric Metcalf?
2) Jahvid Best, California (5-10, 194)
great speed; excellent body control; hard to get a solid shot on; nice elusiveness in the open field; no wasted movements; can catch; tough; good ball security; return skills; not very powerful; not a pass protector; concussion history
3) Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech (6-0, 228)
nice size; really strong runner; breaks tackles; runs well inside; nice speed for a big guy; feet move after contact; decisive runner; initiates contact; nice cutback vision; long strider; not shifty; played in spread option offense in college; wasn't used as a pass catcher; my biggest question is his ability to change direction
4) Ryan Mathews, Fresno State (5-11, 215)
runs hard; decisive, hits hole hard; balanced runner; nice pad level; quick feet; shifty; really nice vision, both inside and outside; gets outside quickly; has a nice slide step to the outside; underutilized stiff arm that is effective; doesn't have breakaway speed; wasn't used as a pass catcher in college
5) Dexter McCluster, Mississippi (5-8, 165)
(I have him grouped in with receivers, but I figured I’d list him here just to show where I have him slotted)
poor man's Harvin; very versatile; dangerous in open field; nice hands; great weapon in passing game, slot receiver possibilities; creates mismatches; Wildcat option; has been slowed by injuries; will size hurt him in NFL? can he take a pounding?
6) Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State (6-1, 240)
really like this guy; bruising runner, powerful; can't arm tackle him; finishes his runs; tremendous heart; productive; leader; showed some skill in passing game this year; might have FB versatility; I guess you can criticize him for not having elite speed, but he runs really well for guy carrying 240 pounds
7) Joe McKnight, USC (6-0, 200)
(I’ve flip flopped Dixon and McKnight at 6 and 7 a couple of times; virtually same rating)
great game speed; not bad size for a change of pace back; really reliable receiver; what stands out most to me his how he catches the ball and explodes upfield; really quick to the outside; nice elusiveness and footwork in tight spots; doesn't run with much power but doesn't shy away from contact either; decisive, has had turnover problems; questionable off field issue(s) at USC; is he just a change of pace guy?
8) Toby Gerhart, Stanford (6-1, 235)
powerful runner; runs through defenders; breaks tackles; plus pass protection; doesn't waste steps; allows blocks to set up; feet constantly moving; strong upper body; falls forward; money in the red zone; great vision; very effective on tosses; under-utilized receiver; not elite speed; monitor ball security, NFL defenses will attack it; not elusive
9) Charles Scott, LSU (5-11, 233)
powerful; thick legs; tough between the tackles; moves well for a big guy; hard to take down once gets going; underrated speed; gets to top speed pretty quickly; good footwork; no wasted movements; balanced runner; nice vision; tremendous game winning 33 yard TD run against Georgia this year; broke collarbone in '09; not elusive; not much of a pass catcher
10) Montario Hardesty, Tennessee (6-0, 215)
heart; tough runner; aggressive; decent size; showed receiving skills this year; not a lengthy resume; not impressed with his speed; not elusive; doesn't break a ton of tackles
11) James Starks, Buffalo (6-2, 211)
tall back; upright runner; competitive; good hands; accomplished receiver; nice vision, cuts well; plus speed for a bigger guy; great late round value; missed all of '09 with torn labrum in shoulder; could add a little bulk
12) Ben Tate, Auburn (5-11, 215)
strong pass blocker; tough runner; hard to take down; decent hands; won't break big plays; will struggle to go E-W in pros
13) LaGarrette Blount, Oregon (6-2, 240)
tough inside runner; douchebag who will go higher than I have him rated; took him off the board before the Boise State player hit the ground
14) Joique Bell, Wayne State (6-1, 225)
15) Andre Anderson, Tulane (6-0, 212)
16) Chris Brown, Oklahoma (5-11, 210)
17) Lonyae Miller, Fresno State (5-11, 220)
18) Stafon Johnson, USC (6-0, 213)
19) Andre Dixon, Connecticut (6-1, 200)
20) Keith Toston, Oklahoma State (6-0, 215)
My round for round favorite – Charles Scott
CJ Spiller might be more deserving since he’s the most talented player at the position and can instantly provide a boost to any team in multiple areas, but I think Charles Scott has a lot of potential for a back who can be had in the mid-late rounds.
Late sleeper – James Starks
I think he’s got a ton of upside and would go much higher if he had played this season.
Most likely to be a Buc – Dexter McCluster
Again, I list him with receivers, but I think he’s the kind of back the Bucs will target if they do indeed pursue someone at the position. I’d like to list Anthony Dixon or Charles Scott here, but if the Bucs go RB that means either Graham or Ward is likely gone. Either way they’re similar backs, so someone like McCluster would give them what they lack. I don’t support the pick since it would likely take a second rounder to get it done, but he’s the one I could see them drafting. Again, it’s all about 5.
There’s a ton of talent available in this draft at every position, and when you look to rank these players, guys at 5 and 10 are a lot closer talent-wise than in previous years. It’s going to be hard to emerge from this draft without talented players, so Dominik will have some help.